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SEHR, volume 5, issue 1: Contested Polities
Updated February 27, 1996

in the shadow of "god's sun-dial"

the construction of american christian zionism and the blackstone memorial

Hilton Obenzinger


On March 5, 1891, the Chicago businessman and Methodist Episcopal lay worker William E. Blackstone was introduced by Secretary of State James G. Blaine to President Benjamin Harrison in order to present a petition Blackstone authored, "Palestine for the Jews." "What shall be done for the Russian Jews?" the petition asked, and Blackstone boldly answered:

Why not give Palestine back to them again? According to God's distribution of nations, it is their home, an inalienable possession, from which they were expelled by force....Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews?...Let us now restore them to the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors.[1]

The petition requested President Harrison and Secretary Blaine "to use their good offices and influence" with Czar Alexander III, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Queen Victoria, and the other monarches and rulers of Europe to hold an international conference "to consider the condition of the Israelites and their claims to Palestine as their ancient home..."[2] Blackstone told the President that he sought only quiet, peaceable efforts so as not to antagonize America's friendly relations with Russia and "make matters worse" for the Russian Jews, yet in his cover letter he also informed the President that the United States was afforded a unique occasion to play a special role in history: "[S]ince the days of Cyrus, there has not been offered any mortal such a privileged opportunity to further the purposes of God concerning His ancient people."[3]

The Blackstone Memorial, as the petition came to be known, was by no means the first expression of support for "Jewish restoration" in the United States, nor the first time the President was called upon to become a modern Cyrus. From the typological disquisitions of John Winthrop and Increase Mather to the Enlightenment ideas of Tom Paine and Joseph Priestly, from the fantasies of a "Unitarian" Jewish State in Palestine entertained by John Adams in 1819 to the colonizing schemes to regenerate Palestine in anticipation of the Jews by George Washington Joshua Adams in 1866, the notion of "Jewish restoration" was, as one historian comments, "endemic to American culture."[4] Earlier enthusiasms about Jewish restoration often flowered into eccentric or utopian projects--such as Rev. David Austin building docks and wharfs in New Haven to aid the world's Jews who would gather there before embarking for Palestine to inaugurate the millennium at the end of the eighteenth century or Warder Cresson converting to Judaism and building a proto-Zionist agricultural settlement outside Jerusalem in the 1850s.[5] But Blackstone's notion of "Jewish restoration" remained pragmatic, a seemingly reasonable proposal speaking to American foreign policy interests distinct from its religious orientation.

The Blackstone Memorial emerged from the same Reformation and Enlightenment preoccupations with Jews as the original nation whose restoration confirms other "natural," European nations and comprises both a necessary prerequisite and model for the reconstitution of an authentic, "primitive" Christianity. Blackstone's contribution to this tradition was to elaborate a fully realized political Zionism that took long-standing religious narratives into the realm of late-nineteenth-century nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism. Indeed, with Blackstone's petition and related activities antedating by six years the convening of Theodor Herzl's first Zionist conference in 1897, Nathan Straus and Louis Brandeis thought enough of his practical efforts to flatter the evangelist as "the father of Zionism."[6] At the same time, the Memorial introduced the ideas of modern, political Zionism as they were being developed in Britain and the Continent to the American public, inaugurating the process of Americanizing those concepts, of shaping a settler-colonial ideology to peculiarly American rhetorical and ideological contours, the results of which permeate American attitudes towards the State of Israel to this day.

The Blackstone Memorial was no minor or eccentric rhetorical exercise played out on the margins of power. The petition was signed by 413 governmental, business, and religious leaders from Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. This impressive list includes Melville W. Fuller, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; Thomas B. Reed, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Senator Chauncey M. Depew of New York; Robert R. Hill, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Sereno E. Payne, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; Ohio Congressman William McKinley, later to be President; William E. Russell, Governor of Massachusetts; mayors of all six cities; editors and publishers of ninety-three leading newspapers and religious periodicals; notable writers, such as George William Curtis; respected clergymen, such as Dwight L. Moody; and businessmen on the order of John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpoint Morgan, Cyrus McCormick, Russel Sage, and Charles Scribner. Without doubt, the Blackstone Memorial as an originary document, as an initial, defining production of Zionist discourse, came fully authorized by enormous power. At the same time, the Memorial was fashioned from a very American political rhetoric of late-nineteenth-century humanitarianism, rationalism, and progressivism joined to a mythic structure of a public, nonsectarian Protestantism that only alludes to its submerged, far more radical foundations of dispensational, premillennial eschatology.

Such a mixture of secularism and faith may seem curious, if not contradictory. To many observers, for example, the awarding of a gold medal to Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for service to Israel and the Jewish people in the early 1980s seemed a cruel anomaly, a deviation from the liberal, humanist traditions of mainline Protestantism and labor Zionism. Yet the alliance of what today we call Christian fundamentalism with Zionism has vibrant roots reaching much further back than the 1910 publication of the series of tracts called The Fundamentals and the 1919 World's Christian Conference of Fundamentals from which the Protestant trend obtains its name. In many respects, the development of both ideological currents reinforce and mirror each other, drawing strength from an ideological affiliation that goes far beyond the narrower terrain of Likud politicians and conservative televangelists, an affiliation that involves broader, more liberal trends within Protestantism and Zionism, as well as more secular currents within Western nationalist discourse. Not only was the Protestant doctrine of "Jewish restoration" crucial to Anglo-American evangelical theology, forming a decisive and often overlooked preoccupation out of which modern, political Zionism would emerge, the doctrine also contributed significantly to the formation of the covenantal narratives of New Jerusalem that remain at the core of dominant American "civil religion" and national identity. Consequently, an examination of the rhetoric of the Memorial and the furious debate provoked by it will also reveal ways in which Blackstone's updated notions of "Jewish restoration" flowed from particular Anglo-American anxieties, obsessions, and ambitions at that crucial moment when the United States was on the verge of becoming an imperialist world power.

jesus is coming

Born in Adams, New York in 1841, William Eugene Blackstone became a successful businessman specializing in real estate outside Chicago after the Civil War. A self-taught lay evangelist and Bible teacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Blackstone eventually devoted himself to missionary work. While at a YMCA convention, Blackstone asked the Reverend James Hall Brooke, one of the foremost ministers of the time, to write a tract about the second coming that he could pass out on trains as he traveled. Instead, Brooke suggested that Blackstone write it himself and that he would publish it. Brooke's suggestion led Blackstone to compose Jesus is Coming, hailed as "probably the most wide-read book in this century on our Lord's return."[7] First published in 1878, its 1908 revised edition was financed by California oilman Lyman Stewart and distributed by the hundreds of thousands; by Blackstone's death in 1935, Jesus is Coming had been translated into thirty-six languages, with over a million copies printed.[8]

Blackstone, like Brooke and other evangelists of that time, was influenced by the Plymouth Brethren dispensationalist premillennialism preached by the influential Anglo- Irish minister John Nelson Darby on his tours of North America in the seventies. The year Jesus is Coming first appeared--1878--also saw the first of a series of prophecy and Bible conferences, eventually known as the Niagara Prophecy Conferences, held around the United States which established this proto-fundamentalist theological tendency. Ministers from a wide spectrum of denominations combined elements of Princeton theology, biblical literalism, and premillennialism with a conservative opposition to higher criticism, modernism, and other liberalizing trends.

Premillennial eschatology challenged the prevailing postmillennial framework which had dominated American Protestantism since the innovations of Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins, and Daniel Whitby in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[9] Much of Jesus is Coming is a polemic with postmillennialism that can be characterized as a somewhat optimistic outlook, anticipating, in the words of Alexander Campbell, "the consummation of that ultimate amelioration of society proposed in the Christian Scriptures."[10] Such amelioration included the conversion of the entire world to Christianity--the "fullness of the gentiles"--but also involved visions of scientific achievement, social reform, just government, and peace. While the Jews also would accept Jesus as their Messiah, they would remain a separate ethnic group, God's chosen people still, in order to return to Palestine to restore their ancient kingdom.

While the postmillennialist may have read the "signs of the times" as steps in the improvement of humanity, the premillennialist read history as an accretion of disasters; the horrors of history were read as welcome harbingers of Jesus's any-moment advent. The postmillennialist postponed the return by at least a thousand years--an intolerable delay for Blackstone--but the premillennialist interpreted the current time as the last "dispensation" or age in God's calender before Jesus arrives to usher in the thousand years of triumph. The premillennialist, although characterizing himself as optimistic because of his faith in the imminent arrival of Jesus, is driven by a more pessimistic outlook, a sense that the "confident anticipation of our democratic age" was scripturally "doomed to disappointment."[11] According to Blackstone, premillennial faith "gives us a view of the world, as a wrecked vessel, and stimulates us to work with our might that we may save some."[12] For the few followers of Christ who would be saved from this wrecked vessel--either by "rapture" or by resurrection--the restoration of Israel in Palestine is essential to their triumph: the Jews remain God's chosen people, and Jesus, surrounded by the Christian elect, will rule the world from his reestablished Kingdom in Jerusalem. At the end of his cover letter to his Memorial, Blackstone wishes the President "to take a personal interest in this great matter" and secure through negotiations

a home for these wandering millions of Israel, and thereby receive to yourselves the promise of Him, who said to Abraham, "I will bless them that bless thee," Gen. 12:3.[13]

Blackstone's eschatological view of history makes plain what such a blessing entails: the premillennial scenario bolsters the dominion of Protestants of true faith alongside the ultimate source of power by the restoration of God's original nation.

According to Blackstone's exegesis of the end-days, earth's history is divided into six "aions" or dispensations, of which the current age is the last before the seventh Sabbath "day" of the millennium. This new age will dawn with the "rapture," the sudden disappearance from earth of all true believers who will ascend into the sky to meet their Savior as he begins his descent from Heaven, the community of individual believers constituting the true, noninstitutional church which as a corporate body becomes a "bride" to Jesus. Blackstone is a "pretribulationist," believing that the entire church by its rapture escapes the ensuing chaos and disaster of seven years of tribulation which are marked by the appearance of the Antichrist, who is "the culminating manifestation of Satan" and who will rule from Jerusalem. He "will be received, even by the Jews, who, having returned to their own land and rebuilt their temple, will make a treaty with him, called by the prophet 'a covenant with death and an agreement with hell' (Isaiah 28:14-18)."[14]

Blackstone's theology relieves the Pope or the Sultan from the role of Antichrist, characterizing the evil personage as an unknown to be discovered by history, although he speculates that "the atheistic and lawless trio of socialism, nihilism and anarchy...which seeks to wipe out all law relating to marriage, property, etc...[may be] the immediate precursors of Antichrist."[15] He even speculates in other tracts that the Antichrist could very well rise from the Jews themselves, since he would be the counterfeit of Jesus who himself was a Jew.[16] In any case, after three and a half years of his rule, the Antichrist will reveal his true sinful nature as the Man of Evil, demand that he be worshipped as God, and begin persecuting the Jews who resist his idolatry. After massive bloodshed, during which most Jews die, Christ will appear at the end of the seven years, deliver the surviving remnant of the Jews, and destroy the Antichrist.

The devil will be bound for the thousand years of the millennium, while the restored twelve tribes of Israel will enter into a new covenant with Christ to repossess the full extent of the now blossoming Promised Land. Christ and the saints, which will include the surviving, believing remnant of Jews, will rule the world from Jerusalem and its rebuilt temple until the end of the millennium. At that time Satan will be briefly released, upon which he will be cast into "the lake of fire" forever and an eternity of bliss will ensue.[17]

In this scheme, Jewish restoration occurs twice. In its final manifestation during Christ's millennial rule, national and political "restoration" is a reward to be shared by all those receiving salvation, allowing Gentiles to be included in the restorative project while maintaining the chosen, covenantal role of the Jews to await the final battle with Satan, after which restoration is rendered irreversible. However, in its initial occurrence, Jewish restoration, despite leading to Jewish collaboration with the devil, is anticipated as the most significant, hopeful sign that the "rapture" is imminent and the eschatological narrative is about to begin. Consequently, every Christian should assist in hastening what is a necessary overture to the greater drama to come, despite the inevitability of the Jews' second betrayal of Christ and their consequent destruction.

In the third edition of Jesus is Coming, Blackstone describes the conditions of colonization in 1908 and even the completion of the railroad from Jaffa to Jerusalem as confirming scripture. To Blackstone, Israel is "God's sun-dial. If we want to know our place in chronology, our position in the march of events look at Israel..." Jews, despite their rejection of Jesus, are God's actors in history; scriptural prophecies still pertain to this peculiar people, and "if Israel is beginning to show signs of national life and is actually returning to Palestine," then the "end of this dispensation" is surely nigh.[18] Blackstone has no problem in conceiving of this scenario in consciously political terms, for, as he writes in another tract, "the Bible is a political Book rather than anything else," and, in a telling revision of Clauswitz, "religion is only the highest form of politics," for God is the head of all government, his Kingdom supreme.[19]

This political perspective allows Blackstone in the 1908 edition to depart from his usual style of creating a narrative from a montage of scriptural references in order to discuss the modern realities of Zionism to a Gentile world as yet unfamiliar with the nascent movement among the Jews. Blackstone first approvingly notes orthodox Jews who hold to a literalist faith in divine restoration, although he acknowledges that they reject the plan "as an attempt to seize the prerogatives of their God." Then he disdainfully describes Reform Jews who, like their liberal Protestant counterparts, succumb to false spiritualizing and "have rapidly thrown away their faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures": "They have no desire to return to Palestine. They are like the man in Kansas, who, in a revival meeting said he did not want to go to heaven, nor did he wish to go to hell but he said he wanted to stay right there in Kansas." These Jews "[prefer] the palatial homes and gathered riches which they have acquired in Western Europe and the United States." But Blackstone then discusses another group of "agnostics," Zionists like Herzl and Nordau who believe "that this is not a religious movement at all. It is purely economic and nationalistic." Despite their "unbelief," the new movement advocating resettlement of the ancient homeland "has certainly marked a wonderful innovation in the attitude of the Jews and a closer gathering of the dry bones of Ezekiel."[20]

Blackstone's approval of political Zionism is a radical departure from the postmillennialist assumption that the Jews would convert before or conterminously with their return. But for Blackstone the fact that the colonization of Palestine is organized by secular Jews poses no problem; rather, it only serves to confirm the literal truth of prophecy--that the Jews would return in their unbelief. In the 1878 edition of Jesus is Coming, Blackstone has fewer political allusions, but his notion of the centrality of "God's sun-dial" already establishes this radical shift from postmillennialist Jewish restoration theology, thereby directing even more intense attention to the Jews as the fulcrum of history: even without their repentance and conversion they would receive God's blessing.

Such objectification of Jews is, of course, deeply rooted in older Christian theological traditions. Blackstone's Darbyite premillennialist innovations, however, make Christian eschatology even more thoroughly dependent upon the behavior of Jews in history. Blackstone's exaggerated interest in Jews stems from the way his own religious fantasies and Anglo-Saxon identity revolve around what he perceives as the original, authentic nation: Jews are God's own herrenvolk. He rails at Reform Jews for the same allegorizing heresy as the Protestant liberals; but, more pointedly, he rejects these modernizing "amalgamationists" because they refuse to act according to his eschatological script.

I do not want to suggest that Blackstone merely displayed false sympathy or was crudely self-serving. Certainly, as he learned more about Jews in his career, he would express genuine concern for the victims of anti-Semitism; but at root Blackstone always watched "God's sun-dial" in order to tell his own time. His assertion of the absolute centrality of the Jews and the myth of their restoration had to contend with other trends, such as Anglo-Israelism (the identification of Anglo-Saxons with the ten lost tribes) and the more generalized white supremacist Anglo-Saxonism prevalent in both British and American Protestantism.[21] Blackstone had to convince white Protestants that they had to submit themselves to the fate of a small, despised, impure people in order to assure ultimate Protestant supremacy: "There are special blessings for the Church, and special blessings for Israel," he explains.[22] In the end the saints are far more blessed, for they will rule with Jesus from Israel, the restoration of which "like the red thread in the British rigging...runs through the whole Bible."[23]

Such a narrative harmonizes with previous American settler-colonial experience. Indeed, by justifying Jewish restoration with biblical imperative, Blackstone presents an even more essentialized civilizing mission than any of the more secular versions. With all of his fascination with a despised and persecuted people, Blackstone characteristically renders the indigenous people of Palestine as all but invisible. Arabs, even the "nominal" Christians of the Holy Land, are almost never mentioned, while the Ottoman Turks are considered merely as the usurpers of sacred text:

The title deed to Palestine is recorded, not in the Mohammedan Serai of Jerusalem nor the Serglio of Constantinople, but in hundreds of millions of Bibles now extant in more than three hundred languages of the earth.[24]

So long as the deed to Palestine did not rest in the hands of its rulers or its indigenous people, Europe and America could take the attitude of advocates of reform, of righting ancient wrongs, through the vehicle of a progressive, sanctified colonialism. Only a few years later, President McKinley, one of the signers of the Blackstone Memorial, would fall to his knees in prayer before hearing the command of God to take the Philippines (and, according to Blackstone, become the instrument for divine punishment of Spain for expelling the Jews in 1492).[25] The premillennial eschatology, particularly when injected into the political rhetoric of the period, reified an authorizing narrative of colonial conquest cloaked in a sense of benevolence that resonated far beyond the immediate issues of anti-Semitism, immigration of impoverished Jews to the West, and the long-anticipated resolution of the Eastern Question.

policy, property, and prophecy

The pogroms of 1881 set in motion the massive Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe, with about 62,000 Jews, mostly from Russia, arriving in the United States between 1881 and 1884.[26] Blackstone's interest in the Jews also continued to increase, and in 1887 he joined others to found the Chicago Hebrew Mission in Behalf of Israel (today called the American Messianic Fellowship) to evangelize the growing Jewish population on the West Side of Chicago. In 1888 he attended the General Missionary Conference in London--a key gathering for the premillennialist movement--then went on to visit Palestine, where he was impressed by the possibilities of colonization.[27]

Upon his return, Blackstone organized "The Conference on the Past, Present and Future of Israel," held in Chicago in 1890. Participants in this conference, said to be the first between Christians and Jews in America, numbered several noted Jews, such as Rabbi Dr. Emil G. Hirsch, who taught Judaism at the University of Chicago and was a major spokesman for the radical wing of the Reform movement, and Dr. Bernhard Felsenthal, one of the founders of Chicago's pre-Herzl Zionist movement.[28] However, the Christian participants in the conference were shocked by their Jewish colleagues. One evangelical journalist observed that a "marked feature" of the conference was "the disavowal by the Jewish speakers of any hope of return to Palestine." Ideas of Jewish restoration "came from Christian lips alone."

No Jew interpreted his prophecies to mean the re-gathering of his race into the land of their ancient home. No expectation was expressed of an earthly kingdom, Messianic or other, with Jerusalem as its capital...."We, the modern Jews," said Rabbi E.G. Hirsch D.D., "do not wish to be restored to Palestine. We have given up the hope in the coming of a political, personal Messiah. We say, 'The country wherein we live is our Palestine, and the city wherein we dwell is our Jerusalem. We will not go back...to form again a nationality of our own....Let our religious life be clothed in the symbols of the life we see living round about us. Let our synagogues speak the language of the cities in which we dwell. Let our ceremonial be constituted in harmony with the culture by which are surrounded.'"[29]

Despite the conference's unanimous approval of "resolutions of sympathy with the oppressed Jews of Russia" to be sent to the Czar and other rulers, Blackstone was not satisfied. "Convinced that no amelioration of the condition of these persecuted Jews could thus be affected," he proposed that a petition in favor of Jewish resettlement of Palestine be presented to President Harrison.[30] Within four months of the conference, Blackstone had drafted the text, gathered the "representative" signatures, and made its presentation, despite the objections of many of the Jewish participants.

Blackstone did end up amassing more than thirty Jewish signatories to his Memorial, but not without further controversy. Bernhard Felsenthal and other Chicago Jews sympathetic to the Memorial rejected its assertion that Jews "have not become agriculturalists elsewhere because they believed they were mere sojourners in the various nations, and were yet to return to Palestine and till their own land,"[31] which undermined Jewish existence in the diaspora. Not only did Blackstone, in his eagerness to assign Jews his own desire for their return, clash with historical accuracy, but his mischaracterization also aroused American Jewish anxieties over being labeled "mere sojourners" in the United States. Consequently, before the fifteen names of Chicago Jews who did sign the petition, an addenda was inserted:

Several petitioners wish it stated that the Jews have not become agriculturists because for centuries they were almost universally prohibited from owning or tilling land in the countries of their dispersion.[32]

Blackstone's proposal in "Palestine for the Jews" is almost entirely argued in the rationalistic, secular terms of a foreign policy proposal or business plan. Except for noting that the time was appropriate for all nations, "especially the Christian nations of Europe, to show kindness to Israel" and that Palestine was the Jewish homeland "according to God's distribution of nations," the Memorial does not mention Protestant theology or employ overtly religious language.[33] In the cover letter to President Harrison, little more than the final two paragraphs out of nineteen involve religious argumentation. Even here, Blackstone uses scripture only to explain why America would receive God's blessing upon the Gentiles for supporting Jewish restoration; and though he refers to "the great roll of the centuries," he carefully avoids elaborating his own chiliastic theories. Instead, he places the colonization project on a broader, nondenominational basis: the idea "seems to appeal to all classes of Christians as a magnificent humanitarian movement."[34]

In asking "What shall be done for the Russian Jews?" Blackstone reviews the alternatives. He considers it "both unwise and useless to dictate to Russia her internal affairs," grieving over but nonetheless acquiescing to Czarist expulsion plans:

But where shall 2,000,000 of such poor people go? Europe is crowded and has no room for more peasant population. Shall they come to America? This will be a tremendous expense, and require years.[35]

Having dispensed with the solutions of opposing the policies of a friendly government and of advocating immigration to Western Europe and the United States, Blackstone advances to his next rhetorical question: "Why not give Palestine back to them again?". However, we should pause at the telegraphic answer to "Shall they come to America?". The logical weakness of his response should have been apparent even at the time the Memorial was written: Blackstone implies that colonization in Palestine would be less expensive and would not "require years" as immigration to America presumably would. Indeed, regardless of Blackstone's arguments that a swift transfer of Russian Jews to Palestine could be financed by Jewish wealth, his pragmatic rejection of immigration touched a troubling concern within the ruling elite. In "May the United States Intercede for the Jews?", an article he later wrote to answer critics of the Memorial, Blackstone observes "the general clamor against Jewish immigration which prevails in Europe and the United States." He notes that "a few can be admitted, but not a multitude, and especially not the paupers."[36] Having reached this conclusion, colonization seems the only logical step: they cannot remain in Russia, and they cannot come here; better that they "return."

Doubtless, a good number of those who signed the Memorial were likely to have believed that they were sending a message to President Harrison that Jewish immigration must be controlled and curtailed rather than asserting the merits of colonization, particularly after noting that Jewish emigration from Russia would "create such friction in the labor and social circles."[37] Blackstone may have been appalled that "the agony and horror of 1492 were to be quadrupled in 1892,"[38] but he managed to find a potent discursive zone from which to make a cogent argument by appealing to the source of Gentile anxiety about the "Jewish Problem." In his cover letter, Blackstone argues that European nations that sympathize with the Russian Jewish plight yet do not wish Jews "to be crowded into their own countries, will...cheerfully assent to this restoration to Palestine as the most natural alternative."[39] No matter how deeply many of the signers of the Memorial may have supported "the most natural alternative," they would have most certainly "cheerfully assented" to any proposal to keep millions of impoverished Jews away from American borders.

The fact that Blackstone considers colonization to be the "natural alternative" situates his argument within the rhetoric of natural science, international law, and political efficacy. Fundamentalists only received their reputation for being "anti-science" after the 1920s's Scopes Monkey Trial. As George Marsden points out, much of the premillennialist movement in the late nineteenth century was deeply fascinated by Enlightenment science, Scottish Common Sense philosophy, and Linnean classification, regarding "natural" law as the visible representation of "divine" law; literalist interpretation of the Bible itself was regarded as founded on science, modeled on the manipulation of scripture as evidence according to Baconian empiricism.[40] Blackstone seeks to "naturalize" the Zionist project by making it unquestionably "feasible," very much within the "natural" world of capitalist economics and politics: Jewish restoration is no longer a fantastic, supernatural project of divine engineering, but one that, within the "natural," imperialist division of the world at the end of the nineteenth century, could easily be imagined.

It is this sense of being "feasible and politic," of being a cogent, achievable business plan, that permeates the Memorial. Blackstone notes that Palestine used to be "a remarkably fruitful land," that "rains are increasing, and there are many evidences that the land is recovering its ancient fertility"; and that Palestine was once "the center of civilization and religion" and could become so once again. The transformation could be effected through an international great-power conference; Palestine, like Rumania, Montenegro, and Greece, could be "wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners." In exchange for "autonomy in government, the Jews of the world would rally to transport and establish their suffering brethren in their time-honored habitation." In fact, "whatever vested rights, by possession, may have accrued to Turkey can be easily compensated, possibly by the Jews assuming an equitable portion of the national debt."[41]

In his cover letter, Blackstone is more specific, suggesting, in anticipation of Herzl's own proposal to the Sultan, that the funding of a portion of Turkey's national debt "by rich Jewish bankers" would be "an important factor in the case." Indeed, even the indemnity Russia claimed against Turkey "may be favorably used to promote the accomplishment of this plan." Blackstone is confident that "only peaceable diplomatic negotiation is necessary." He is well aware "that all the great European powers are jealous of each other's influence in, or possible occupation of, Palestine," so that "giving" the strategic land "to such an energetic small nation as the Jews under international guarantees and protection" would satisfy all great-power ambitions. Such a small state, "existing only by international protection, would of necessity realize the importance of justice, righteousness, and moderation."[42]

Blackstone's proposal for peaceful rearrangement of the world through negotiation was not unreasonable nor was it especially utopian, given the workings of successive international conferences for the imperialist division of the world to do just that. He was not cynically employing the idea of an international conference when he advocated "a universal court or congress, in which all national disputes and questions shall be peaceably considered and settled."[43] Blackstone was quite serious about international arbitration, and in 1893, at the "World's Parliament of Religions" held in Chicago, he authored another memorial calling for a "specific Congress on Arbitration and Peace" which was presented to the governments of the world.[44]

Confident in the efficacy of diplomatic negotiation, Blackstone asserts "that all private ownership of land and property should be carefully respected and protected."[45] But whose private property and land? In "May the United States Intercede for the Jews?", Blackstone clarifies that "no expulsion of the present inhabitants of the land was contemplated." Reference to the native Arab population as "the present inhabitants" anticipates the Balfour Declaration's use of "existing non-Jewish communities" for signifying what cannot be spoken. In his rebuttal essay Blackstone even exclaims about the "astonishing anomaly" of "a land without a people, and a people without a land!".[46] That much of Blackstone's plan echoes Herzl and other early Zionist proponents indicates how the Zionist idea gestated from a general political and intellectual milieu and not from the mind of any one individual; it was certainly an idea that inscribed itself "naturally" within a culture in which indigenous people do not even require a name. One need only recall the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre as a barometer of this political climate.

the debate

Much of the response in the general and Christian press was favorable, considering the powerful newspapers that signed the petition itself. Among those which did not join the acclaim, the New York Sun issued the strongest broadside. The Sun's editorial lambasted the feasibility of Blackstone's plan, arguing that the Jews do not want to return to Palestine and that it is not the business of the United States to intervene in European and Turkish diplomacy ("Such entanglements we have always sedulously avoided"). However, the newspaper illumined related ideological questions beyond those of practicality and George Washington's injunction against foreign entanglements by identifying the Zionist project with yet another American colonizationist project of questionable moral validity:

The proposition to segregate the Jews and shut them up in Palestine is parallel with the old scheme to send the negroes back to Africa, and the Jews know it. It is a development of anti-semitism rather than an expression of pure philanthropy. The anti-semitic league of Germany would be glad to see it carried out....But the Jews do not propose to go. They are doing wonderfully well where they are and they are too practical a people to sacrifice substantial advantage to the mere sentiment to occupying a land of their own in they would have hard work to get mere subsistence even if they could live at all. If they really wanted Palestine, could not these masters of finance, the virtual rulers of great states, get it themselves without the help or interference of President Harrison or Secretary Blaine?[47]

While the Sun is also deeply impressed by the purported financial power of Jews, implicating itself with the generalized anti-Semitic assumptions held by all sides that Jews were indeed "masters of finance," the editorial correctly identifies the contradictory sentiments behind previous colonizationist impulses: abolitionism was frequently interlaced with a desire to see the victims of slavery (or at least freed Blacks) disappear; Jewish colonization, as opposition to anti-Semitism, was intertwined with a wish for the excluded and ghettoized to be re-excluded and re-ghettoized. But to the Sun editorialist there would be no reason for Jews to go, for America offers them "a land of their own without begging the possession from Kings and emperors."[48] Despite this initial blast, the Sun would quickly abandon its criticism and join the pro-colonization majority within a year and a half. However, a major Protestant minister and recent traveller to Palestine, Thomas DeWitt Talmadge expressed a widespread response when he remarked that "Any Jew who has prospered in America would be a most foolish man if he were to remove to Palestine for any other than sentimental reasons."[49]

Indeed, most Jewish opinion was not at all inclined to be so agreeable, with the bulk of Blackstone's opposition coming from Jews themselves, particularly the Reform Jewish press, concerned as it was with redefining religious and cultural practices in order to remold a "tribal" or "national" identity into one of a community of faith like other denominations in America. Also, when it became known through Leon Zolotkoff, the editor of a Yiddish newspaper, that Blackstone was motivated by evangelical, missionary fervor, most Jews sought to have nothing whatsoever to do with the proposal.[50] Only a few Jewish periodicals received it sympathetically, and only HaPisga, the Hebrew periodical of the early Zionist organization Hoveve Zion [Lovers of Zion] edited by Wolf Schur, hailed Blackstone's intervention. Schur praised the Memorial while dismissing Blackstone's Christian agenda:

Let the Christians do whatever they can to help us in the resettlement in Palestine. As to the question of our faith, let that rest until Elijah returns and then we shall see whether or not their dream materializes....Our object and hope in the settlement of Palestine is in no wise religious, but strictly nationalistic. We believe further that Blackstone's hope and that of his friends concerning Jewish conversion to Christianity will not materialize, for where there is a recognition of God there is no place for belief in Jesus.[51]

Blackstone was pleased by Schur's approbation, and he sent him a prayer to circulate among Jews to insure the success of the project, forcing Schur to remind Blackstone that "our interest in redeeming Palestine is motivated by nationalistic rather than by religious considerations."[52] Still, no matter how awkward, the coincidence of interests that would lead Menachem Begin to pin a medal on Jerry Falwell had been established.

Reform Jews, however, were alarmed at those very same nationalistic considerations which, from their point of view, constituted a serious threat to their status in the United States. Boston's Rabbi Solomon Schindler pointed to the danger contained in the colonization project: "No sooner could a Jewish commonwealth be established in Palestine than those very people will raise the cry 'the Jew must go.'"[53] To the Jewish Messenger, the Memorial was "one of those unfortunate acts of friendship which may work a vast amount of mischief" because "it revives the old reproach of the anti-Semites that the Jews cannot be patriots if Palestine is their national home today."[54] Since its defining Pittsburgh Conference of 1885, Reform Judaism distinguished itself from Orthodoxy by confirming itself as "no longer a nation but a religious community" in which the spirit of "amalgamation" was strong. Attachment to Palestine was of no theological or practical import: "We beg to remind Mr. Blackstone that the Jew has ceased to be a Palestinian for better or worse. We feel it for the better....The religion of an Isaiah needed more room--a world instead of a thin strip of soil- -that is why God destroyed Jerusalem."[55] But most of all, Blackstone's marriage of "mere sojourners" with nationalism raised the anxious question of "dual loyalty." American Zionism, still a minuscule trend among Jews themselves, was eventually able to reach some ideological resolution on this question--or at least a workable formulation--with the ideas of American pluralism and "Messianic Pragmatism" developed by Horace Kallen twenty years later and elaborated by Louis Brandeis; but at this early stage, Jewish nationalism simply could not be reconciled with the emerging forms of "melting pot" Americanism.[56]

Blackstone's Jewish critics also lashed out at the feasibility of his plan, sometimes expressing the chauvinist scorn of the German Jewish elite--still dominant despite the flood of Eastern immigrants--for the capacities of their poorer Eastern European brethren: the Russian Jews were too backward to manage a government; Palestine could never support the population; the project would never be able to finance such a vast and sudden evacuation; the country would be burdened by a huge national debt, and so forth. Appalled by the prospect of an orthodox theocracy, neither were Reform critics so confident that such a state would be as enlightened as Blackstone imagined, anticipating much of the darker side of Zionist development with eerie prescience:

It is not at all unlikely that the Jews of Palestine would proceed to expel all non-Israelites and become as exclusive and intolerant as other persecutors in Russia, in Roumania and Coney Island.[57]

I have already mentioned some of the ways Blackstone tried to respond to his critics in "May the United States Intercede for the Jews?" in October 1891, but the objections of the Reform Jews he virtually ignores. He dismisses them with scorn as radicals, apostates to their religion (of which, for him, orthodox belief in restoration is the essence). His rebuttal is directed mainly at his Christian critics, for whom he employs a scriptural defense for the prophetic realization of Jewish restoration (while he again refrains from displaying the full range of his premillennialist palette). Blackstone also torturously explicates international law so as to prove that the Jews were never derelict in abandoning the land and that their claim to possession of Palestine remained "natural" and valid. He counters noninterventionist or isolationist sentiment by posing America's intercession as an extension of the Monroe doctrine: "Can we aspire to dominate in the affairs of the Americas, and speak no word of comfort in such a case as Israel's? It is not rational."[58] Besides, since "quite a large proportion of the Jews live in our own country," the fate of Palestine "is not strictly a European question." By the United States's involvement in the Berlin and Brussels conferences in 1884 and 1889 respectively, "we have passed the barriers of seclusion." To critics who said "that the United States can have no moral influence with the nations of Europe because of our domestic treatment of the Indians and Chinese," he answers that "every nation has its glass house." No, precisely because "the United States has no covetous aspirations" in the region "...her efforts for Israel would be recognized as entirely unselfish and philanthropic."[59] Blackstone's arguments echo contemporary assertions that the time had come for America's "manifest destiny" to reach the world stage:

A people that has freed millions of slaves, spent billions to repress rebellion, revolutionized navies by its inventions, with a foreign trade of $1,700,000,000, annually, and its treasury bursting with revenue; a nation that is sought by the overflow population of the world, will have no difficulty in securing respectful attention to its peaceable diplomatic efforts for oppressed Israel.[60]

Such a nation would soon have no difficulty in gaining the attention of the world on behalf of oppressed Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Benjamin Harrison did not accept Blackstone's proposal. The President did express his "serious concern because of the harsh measures now being enforced against the Hebrews in Russia...by the revival of anti-semitic laws" in his third annual address to Congress on December 9, 1891. Harrison noted the increasing immigration which

is likely to assume proportions which may make it difficult to find homes and employment for them here and to seriously affect the labor market...

The banishment, whether by direct decree or by not less certain indirect methods, of so large a number of men and women is not a local question. A decree to leave one country is in the nature of things an order to enter another-- some other.[61]

President Harrison certainly received the message that Jewish immigration needed to be checked. Nevertheless, he assured Russia that "our historical friendship" makes his suggestions "those of a sincere wellwisher."

Blackstone would send the Memorial to presidents Cleveland and Roosevelt (McKinley had already signed), but official government sympathy for the Zionist project would have to wait for Woodrow Wilson. By the time William Blackstone presented his petition to Wilson in 1916 there were other advocates, such as Nathan Straus, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and Louis Brandeis, with whom Blackstone could collaborate. Blackstone even sent Justice Brandeis in 1917 a packet of his personal effects for him to hold in anticipation of his imminent rapture, which Brandeis accordingly placed in his bank vault. According to Blackstone, the Balfour Declaration and Allenby's entry into Jerusalem had marked 1917 as the beginning of the restoration: "the Time of the End has begun," and the rapture could even occur before he finished his letter.[62]

philanthropic anti-semitism

Most Jews recoiled from Blackstone once they realized his underlying agenda was evangelical, their response immediately crystallized by the age-old revulsion of Christian proselytizers. However, Blackstone's eschatological objectification also entails other obvious, dangerous elements that most Jewish writers of the time did not address publicly: in his vision, Blackstone sees the wholesale death of Jews, speculates that Satanic leadership may rise from the Jews, and insists that the restored Israel would follow the devil. Despite his vision of the ultimate salvation of the Jews, Blackstone's insistence on restoration is one fraught with the manipulation of Jews into "othered" objects of anti-Semitism. Underlying the eschatology is not only the cry that "the Jews must go," but also that "the Jews must die."

The fact that Jews were reified into "God's sun-dial" casts them into the role of unalterable, metaphysical machines in someone else's design rather than distinct, human subjects capable of telling their own time. Jews are placed in their divinely ordained place by the Christian; any Jewish self-assertion, any tinkering with their own time piece, as the Reform movement did, is rejected by Blackstone with scorn, his sense of superiority allowing him even to intervene within Jewish communal debate.

Addressing a Zionist mass meeting in Los Angeles in 1918, Blackstone told his audience that he had been a Zionist for over thirty years because "true Zionism is founded on the plan, purpose, and fiat of the everlasting and omnipotent God, as prophetically recorded in His Holy Word, the Bible." He then explained that there were only three options open to every Jew. The first was to become a true Christian, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and thereby "escap[ing] from the unequaled time of tribulation which is coming upon all the earth," an option he realistically felt few would accept. The second choice was to become a "true" Zionist "and thus hold fast to the hopes of the fathers, and the assured deliverance of Israel, through the coming of their Messiah, and complete national restoration and permanent settlement in the land which God has given them." The third option was to become an "assimilant," those "Jews who will not be either Christians or Zionists. They wish to remain in various nations enjoying their social, political and commercial advantages." Blackstone ignored the option taken by those orthodox Jews who rejected secularized, political Zionism in favor of traditional observance, while he viciously attacked Reform and non-Zionist, secular Jews for seeking to "enjoy...advantages" in the United States. The anti-Semitic overtones to Blackstone's three-option taxonomy are palpable. Again, the alliance between Zionism and fundamentalism was able to accommodate the anti-Semitic characterization: his audience accepted him, and Rabbi Wise, to whom Blackstone sent a copy of his address, thanked him as "one of our warm friends," despite the fact that Wise rejected the theological basis of his support.[63]

Blackstone's remarkable accomplishment rests in his melding the rhetoric of the "natural" with that of the supernatural in a complex, American texture of rationalism, humanism, and political realism. He transformed already existing currents of colonialism, nationalism, and philo-Semitism into a modern ideology that exercised, if nothing else, an already well-established American ability to rationalize expansion through the narrative of Christian mission. The Sun's identification of the Zionist project with schemes for African colonization highlights the ambivalent, contradictory ways this rationalization took on an apparently democratic form without democratic content. The African colonization project, first proposed in 1773 by Samuel Hopkins and Ezra Stiles--who were also two postmillennial enthusiasts of Jewish restoration--came from a similar matrix of Enlightenment and Protestantism. In the end, Blackstone's colonization plan, similar to the African one, constructs a form of philanthropic anti-Semitism on a foundation of an already naturalized racism and colonialism, which, at the end of the nineteenth century, was all too "feasible and politic."

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Notes

1. William Blackstone, "Palestine for the Jews," Christian Protagonists for Jewish Restoration (New York: Arno, 1977) 1.

2. Blackstone 2.

3. William Blackstone, letter to Benjamin Harrison and James Blaine, 5 March 1891, Christian Protagonists 15.

4. Moshe Davis, "The Holy Land in American Spiritual History," With Eyes Toward Zion: Scholars Colloquium on America-Holy Land Studies, ed. Moshe Davis (New York: Arno, 1977) 19; Regina Sharif, Non-Jewish Zionism: Its Roots in Western History (London: Zed, 1983) 21-40; Peter Amann, "Prophet in Zion: The Saga of George J. Adams," New England Quarterly 37.4 (Dec. 1964): 477-500; Lester I. Vogel, To See a Promised Land: Americans and the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1993) 134-152. The assessment of Jewish restoration in American culture is by Carl Frederick Ehle, Jr., "Prolegomena to Christian Zionism in America: The Views of Increase Mather and William E. Blackstone Concerning the Doctrine of the Restoration of Israel," diss., New York U., 1977, 331.

5. "David Austin," Dictionary of American Biography; Abraham J. Karp, "The Zionism of Warder Cresson," Early History of Zionism in America, ed. Isidore S. Meyer (New York: American Jewish Historical Soc. and Herzl Press, 1958) 1-20.

6. "Mr. Brandeis is perfectly infatuated with the work you have done along the lines of Zionism. It would have done your heart good to have heard him assert what a valuable contribution to the cause your document is. In fact, he agrees with me that you are the father of Zionism, as your work antedates Herzl." Nathan Straus, letter to William Blackstone, 8 May 1916 (qtd. in Ehle 234).

7. Ehle 234-237; Anita Libman Lebeson, "Zionism Comes to Chicago," Meyer 165; David A. Rausch, Zionism Within Early American Fundamentalism 1878-1918 (New York: Mellen, 1979) 262; W. M. Smith, "Sign of the Times," Moody Monthly, Aug. 1966: 5 (qtd. in Sharif 92).

8. Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1970) 190-191; Rausch 263.

9. Sandeen, 59-80; Rausch, 53-72; George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford UP, 1980) 46-55.

10. Alexander Campbell, qtd. in Robert T. Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (New York: Oxford UP, 1984) 31.

11. Samuel Kellogg (qtd. in Sandeen 148).

12. William Blackstone, Jesus Is Coming (Chicago: Revell, 1908) 18-19.

13. Blackstone, "Palestine" 14.

14. Blackstone, Jesus 18-19.

15. Blackstone, Jesus 112.

16. Ehle 317.

17. Ehle 321.

18. Blackstone, Jesus 234; 236.

19. William Blackstone, The Millennium (Chicago: Revell, 1904) 25.

20. Blackstone, Jesus 237-240.

21. Handy 105-110.

22. Blackstone, Jesus 172.

23. Blackstone, Jesus 235.

24. Blackstone, Jesus 172.

25. Ehle 276-277.

26. Marnin Feinstein, American Zionism, 1884-1904 (New York: Herzl, 1965) 17.

27. Ehle 238; Rausch 264; Sandeen 175.

28. Ehle 238-240.

29. George F. Magoun, "The Chicago Jewish Christian Conference," Our Day, VII Jan.-June 1891: 266.

30. Ehle 240.

31. Blackstone, "Palestine" 2.

32. Blackstone, "Palestine" 6.

33. Blackstone, "Palestine" 2.

34. Blackstone, letter to President Harrison 14.

35. Blackstone, "Palestine" 2.

36. William Blackstone, "May the United States Intercede for the Jews," Our Day, VIII Oct. 1891; Christian Protagonists 15.

37. Blackstone, "Intercede" 15.

38. Blackstone, "Intercede" 15.

39. Blackstone, letter to Harrison 14.

40. Marsden 55-62.

41. Blackstone, "Palestine" 2-3.

42. Blackstone, letter to Harrison 14.

43. Blackstone, "Intercede" 19.

44. Ehle 248-253.

45. Blackstone, letter to Harrison 14.

46. Blackstone, "Intercede" 17.

47. New York Sun 6 March 1891 (qtd. in Feinstein 65- 67).

48. New York Sun 6 March 1891 (qtd. in Feinstein 67).

49. Feinstein 75.

50. Feinstein 61.

51. HaPisga, III (8 May 1901): 1 (qtd. in Feinstein 61).

52. HaPisga, III (8 May 1901): 1 (qtd. in Feinstein 62).

53. Rabbi Solomon Schindler (qtd. in Feinstein 70).

54. Jewish Messenger, 69 (13 March 1891): 4.

55. Jewish Messenger, 69 (13 March 1891): 4; Jewish Messenger, 69 (20 March 1891): 4.

56. See Sarah Schmidt, "Messianic Pragmatism: The Zionism of Horace M. Kallen," Judaism 98, 25. 2 (Spring 1976): 217-229.

57. The American Israelite 37 (5 March 1891): 6.

58. Blackstone, "Intercede" 23.

59. Blackstone, "Intercede" 22-23.

60. Blackstone, "Intercede" 23.

61. James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 11 vols. (Washington: Government Printing House, 1817-1898) 188.

62. Ehle 298-304. Blackstone also found eschatological significance in 1897 (the first Zionist Congress), 1914 (the Great War), and 1932 (the rise of Hitler).

63. William Blackstone, "A Word to Zionists," The Jewish Era 27.2 (Apr. 1918): 44-46; Ehle 300-301; Rausch 268.